It’s a couple of days after one of the most contentious US presidential elections in modern history, and we’re still unsure who will lead our country.
You may be reeling with emotion, uncertain how to cope with the stress and uncertainty of the next few hours — or days — and unclear on what you can do to help our divided country heal.
“The challenge is this comes on the backdrop of so much uncertainty in so many arenas — health, business, economic, social,” said stress management expert Dr. Cynthia Ackrill, an editor for “Contentment” magazine, produced by the American Institute of Stress.
“And since uncertainty is stressful for most humans, and all stress is additive, this overwhelms already fatigued coping skills,”
Tired brains don’t work well, sending less blood flow to such frontal-lobe executive functions as creativity, compassion, emotional regulation, the ability to handle conflicting perspective and rational judgment, she explained.
Those are exactly the higher executive functions we need to manage uncertainty, take action and remain hopeful, so it’s no wonder you might be feeling anxious, jittery, exhausted or depressed right now.
With this “chronic crisis,” our need to feel in control of something is amplified, so adding more uncertainty is frustrating, and possibly frightening.
“Acknowledge the fear,” Ackrill said. “Like all your emotions, it needs processing.”
While some fear is justified, “our brains can make the threat seem closer (or) worse,” she said. “Use that fear to motivate you to find places where you do have control, where you can take action, where you can take the best care of yourself to be fit for the challenge.”
Here are some steps you can take to fight back against anxiety, fear and uncertainty.
Recharge your batteries
“First, reach for that resilience toolbox,” said Dr. Tania Maria Caballero, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.
“Recharge, re-center, take a break from social media and take care of yourself. New ideas and positive energy do not stem from a weary mind,” she said.
If your “tribe” on social media is supportive, that’s one thing. But all too often tensions flare when we can hide behind a keyboard, experts say.
“When I think about others’ expressions of anger, especially on a virtual platform, I remind myself that in order to have a flame from a spark, you need to add more sparks. If you do not fuel the angry spark, you cannot start a fire,” Caballero said.
Instead, Caballero suggested taking a walk; picking up the phone and talking with a good friend; and reading a favorite poem, prayer or song.
“Think of the choices you make as adding to your energy or subtracting — how can you tip the scales to more energy?” Ackrill said. “Every little bit adds up, just as stress energy drains add up. (Make) tiny shifts, tiny choices toward nourishing your best self.”
Let’s get physical
“Move! You are wired to meet stress with action,” Ackrill said.
Exercise will reduce those built-up stress chemicals, especially if it’s outdoors among trees, she said.
“Nature calms your brainwaves,” Ackrill said. “Dance it out to your favorite music. Music has an amazing ability to help you change mood.”
Try to combine activities into “triple plays,” Ackrill suggested, where you can combine exercise with emotional support and nature.
“Meet a friend to walk outside — six feet apart with masks, of course!” she said. “Do something with your hands that you can lose yourself in (flow) while listening to good music.”
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